Page:American Historical Review, Volume 12.djvu/553

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Sovereignty in the American Revolution

as provided in the new state constitutions. Men thought of the Continental Congress as Europeans later thought of the Congress at Laybach (in 1821) to which the members of the Holy Alliance sent representatives who assumed in no wise any sovereign power over the participating nations. Like it, Congress was an advisory body having no recognized sovereign power but a considerable coercive force exercised through the other states and due to the generally recognized fact that success for each depended upon the unity of all.[1]

Yet with all the pressure of a common peril to induce obedience to Congress, there are numerous examples of disobedience by states and state officials, when state interests conflicted with the general interest, and in such cases Congress was helpless.[2] "So long as the expenses were to be paid by the Continent, the Congress could direct the details and the results, but when the cost was to be paid by the state, recommendations from the Congress carried weight only so far as they fell in with the expediency of the local authorities."[3] The very formation of state governments with constitutions prepared the way for a decline in the influence of the Congress.[4] The strong men preferred to serve in state governments rather than to serve in Congress,[5] and on the other hand, as Hamilton pointed out, "Each State in order to promote its own internal government and prosperity, has selected its best members to fill the offices within itself, and conduct its own affairs."[6] It is noteworthy that a recommendation of Congress must first be approved by the state authorities be-

  1. The inhabitants of Savannah express the prevalent idea. Force, American Archives, fourth series, II. 1544. Not to wish success of the general cause was "Toryism", a stigma which neither individuals nor states cared to have fixed upon them. See Rush's view, Pennsylvania Magazine, XXVII. 135.
  2. Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Journals of Congress, IV. 93; III. 321; V. 469. Note especially the famous Olmstead Case, when Pennsylvania set at naught a decision of the Commissioners of Congress. Congress, "not wishing to endanger the public peace of the United States", proceeded no further. Jameson, Essays, 17–22. When a state did obey a request of the Congress which bore hard upon them, Congress commended them for "additional proofs of their meritorious attachment to the common cause." Journals of Congress, IV. 99. In a careful study of Maryland's relations with Congress by Mr. F. B. Keeney in my seminary it was shown that out of eighty resolutions of Congress asking Maryland to do certain things forty-five were not heeded by the Maryland convention, and in every controversy between the state and Congress the latter was obliged to yield.
  3. Mr. Ford's preface to the Journals of Congress for 1776, p. 8.
  4. Journals, IV. 8. One should note too the greater hurry and success in making the state constitutions, and how much more ready men were to yield large powers to them than to grant such to Congress in the Articles of Confederation.
  5. Washington's Writings, ed. Sparks, V. Appendix, 508–509.
  6. Ibid., 509.